Paradoxplace Venice & N Italy Galleries

About Paradoxplace


L'Abbazia di Chiaravalle della Colomba

near Fidenza, Emilia-Romagna - "colomba" translates as a dove in English






Hotel Palazzo della Commenda (a great little hotel in the Commendatory Abbot's Palazzo)


Link to the via Francigena - the Pilgrims'' Road to Rome


Link to the Corpus Domini Infiorata at the Cistercian Abbazia di Casamari south of Rome in Lazio


Back to Paradoxplace Italian Cistercian Abbey Pages



To reach the abbey without getting lost, leave the A1 at "Fiorenzuola" and head along the heavily trucked main road (via Emilia, also the via Francigena but don't even think of walking it) for Parma.  The Abbey is signposted to the left twice, the more obvious time being the second in Alseno.


The Abbey of Chiaravalle della Colomba was founded after a visit by S Bernard of Clairvaux to Piacenza (Emilia-Romagna) in 1135, when the Benedictine monk Arduino, who was bishop of Piacenza, asked our man if he could see his way to doing one of his famous abbeys in the area.  The area is flat and at that time would have been mostly marshland, the draining of which was what Cistercian monk-engineers did.


Work on Chiaravalle (Italian for Clairvaux, S Bernard's abbey of which it was to be a daughter) got under way almost immediately, after a short hiatus relating to the exact location of the church ......



By the end of the 1100s the abbey lands had grown significantly because of donations from the local aristocracy and the fact that it was on the via Francigena (the Pilgrims' Road to Rome), but in 1248 it all turned pear shaped when troops of the Emperor Frederick II ("Stupor Mundi") "burned the magnificent and sumptuous monastery and all the buildings in its possession".


The monks obviously got things together again fairly quickly, as the beautiful present cloister has been dated to soon after this.


Like the monasteries in France, this area would have suffered greatly in the spill over from the 100 Years' War when marauding bands of English thugs (some later to be dignified with the name Condottieri) rampaged into the Italian peninsular in the second half of the 1300s, raping, looting and pillaging as they went.


Napoleon's lads crossed the Alps then descended on the Po Valley on the way to Venice at the end of the 1700s, and did another loot, pillage and burn job, especially on the monastery buildings and their contents such as books (rather than on the abbey churches themselves).  One can only be thankful that by the time the French got over the mountains to Tuscany, they seemed to run out of puff and restricted themselves to a relatively limited amount of looting (for example of the Certosa di Firenze).  The other interesting observation is that whilst monastery buildings seemed to be fair game for flattening, churches seem to have been treated with marginally more respect (looted but not flattened - a lingering medieval fear of hell ?).






Between 1893 and 1925 the church and monastery were "de-baroqued" and extensively restored, a common practice in Italy at the time.  The explanation of the rather bright brick colour of the facade may be linked to the payment to a brickworks for a large quantity of 'artistic bricks' during this process!

Note the column on the left which has been excavated to show the original base before the column footings were covered when the floor level was raised by 25cm or so.  The bays of the nave form cubes - one of the factors behind the dimensional harmony of this generation of Cistercian abbey churchs.


The Infiorata (flower tapestry) is laid out in the nave of the church each Corpus Domini / Corpus Christi (Eng) (this one in 2005).  The whole church was pervaded with a beautiful perfume of rose petals and the honey smell of broom.  Back then (and now?) concerts were organized in the church itself and its beautiful cloister. 


In fact when the Cistercians were invented in 1098 there was no Corpus Domini feast day, it was only introduced into the Church calendar in the early 1300s by the French Pope Urban IV.  The feast day became the occasion for major Eucharistic processions and infioratas like this one.  As we were told by the Cistercian monk overseeing the laying of the Corpus Domini Infiorata at Casamari, there is a special feeling about knowing you are involved in something which has been happening every year for 700 years!


Upcoming Corpus Domini dates


Link to the Corpus Domini Infiorata at the Cistercian Abbazia di Casamari south of Rome in Lazio


Link to the Corpus Domini street infiorata at Spello in Umbria



In the south transept you can see the "night stairs" leading to what was the monks' dormitory, and down which they stumbled for the first pre-dawn service of the day.  This corner is probably the earliest part of the abbey, because the first priorities in the building of new abbeys were a roof to sleep under and a church (transept initially) to worship in.



The monks' dormitory itself has been restored and turned into a museum.  The story boards about the history of the Cistercians and the abbey all have English translations.




The 4 corner columns of the cloister are each carved from a single marble block to give the appearance of being four separate columns "knotted" in  the middle ... this design, the origin of which is unknown, appears in various European abbeys and churches - the facade of Lucca Duomo (and the Basilica San Michele) has a pair at the upper level and you will also find one outside the church in San Quirico Val d'Orcia, and in the cloister of Santa Sophia in Benevento, Southern Italy.  The "knot" above is in the NW corner of the cloister in the morning sun, and below is a more general view of the west side of the cloister.





The architectural highlights of the abbey are the window and doorway settings on the east side of the cloisters, which front the chapter house and adjoining rooms and the monks' dormitory staircase.  The original parts of this have been dated to the later 1200s, and it is easy (we think) to see Islamic influence in their design (though the locals don't agree!).





Hotel Palazzo della Commenda




Above is the night  view from one of the bedrooms of the hotel that has been built in the old palace of the Commendatory Abbot, so one can wake up to the sound of the abbey bell that in one form or another has been ringing for 900 years.  The 15 room **** Hotel della Commenda in the beautifully "deeply restored" 1400s Palazzo (below) is now firmly on Dom P's favourites list, especially after Barbara, who handles the excellent restaurant, remembered him and the wine he chose from a year previously on his last visit !


This very reasonably priced four starer is also an ideal base for those wanting to be next door to several of the Po Valley towns like Parma, Piacenza, Fidenza and Cremona, and to Busetto where Giuseppe Verdi was born and lived.


Another excellent restaurant is to be found in Sant'Antonio, which is just off the road south to Castell’Arquato.  It's called da Faccini (closed on Wednesday) and was recommended to us by the ever reliable Robert Veel of Academy Travel.


To the right of the entrance door (and below) is the logo for the via Francigena, the pilgrims' road from Rome to Canterbury (from Canterbury to Rome it was the via Romea but that's a bit too confusing for modern twitter sized minds) which is now promoted as a European cultural icon by the EU. 


Via Francigena (pron: fran-chidge-n-er)


The other logo at the bottom of the page is that for the Camino de Santiago (road to Santiago de Compostela) in France, though there are 4+ pilgrims' roads which merge into one to cross Spain, and the scallop shell is the much more pervasive sign.....


A Camino sign at Bessuéjouls near Conques,

just south of the Auvergne in SW France


Camino de Santiago sign in Chartres


For other Paradoxplace links visit the home page


Latest Updates Site Map Travel Services Insight Pages Artists Cathedrals Abbeys France Spain Portugal Britain Italy Venice,  N Italy Tuscany Umbria Rome, Central Italy Sicily, South Italy Book Pages Middle Ages-1350 Renaissance-1600 Map Pages Information


All original material © Adrian Fletcher 2000-2015 - The contents may not be hotlinked, or reproduced without permission.